This little company could change the way we learn forever

Tom Bulford examines a small-cap digital media company which hopes to revolutionise the training industry.

A bomb has just exploded in the market square. Twenty-five bodies are lying, bloodied and broken, on the ground. You have just minutes to look at them, assess their condition and decide who can be saved. The clock is ticking. Every second that you dither could cost a life.

Does this sound like a computer game or an exercise for paramedics? Well it could be both.

This is an example of a serious game', a new phenomenon where the world of online gaming merges with the world of online training.

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The main purpose of these games' is to train and educate, by making the latter more fun and more productive.

Today, I'm going to tell you about a little company that I believe could change the serious gaming world and the way we learn forever.

The company pinning its hopes on this innovative use of digital media is a penny share company called Digital Learning Marketplace (DLM).

With a share price of 0.18p and a stock market value of just £1.2m, this is a real tiddler. But it can hardly do worse in the future than it has in the past. Formerly known as Intellego, this provider of online training courses was a dismal investment.

In June last year, it made a conscious effort of strengthening the balance sheet' through winding up one of its subsidiaries and thus "reducing external liabilities by £623,000".

A new focus could lead to new profits

Anyway that is the past and after re-inventing itself, DLM is drumming up a significant amount of interest in its products. A stint at the 2012 Learning Technologies exhibition highlighted people's interest in serious games being used as learning solutions.

DLM has a new chief executive, Andy Hasoon and he brings with him a new strategy and a new focus. To find out a bit more about it I visited the Serious Games Institute on the Coventry University Technology Park and met its director, Tim Luft.

The Serious Games Institute shares a building and works very closely with DLM's subsidiary, PIXELearning. The basic idea is this: for most of us, learning is, frankly, a bit of a bore. Unfortunately, we find that, far from leaving it behind at school, it continues into our adult life. Continuing competence' and the need to be aware of health and safety and other such regulations require regular tuition.

Historically, we would all troop off to the classroom for a thoroughly tedious hour or so. Things have changed considerably these days and most of these training courses are now delivered online. However, this does not make them any more fun, and most of us just get to the end as quickly as possible.

Welcome to the digital country'

So the idea today is to make online learning as much fun as online gaming. This sounds a tall order. But traditional games providers are struggling in a competitive market, and could do with a new type of product. And the availability of portable computers is allowing online learners to study whenever they please.

An example of this new thinking is the new Gloucester Language Immersion Centre, a client of PIXELearning. Here students will inhabit a sort of digital foreign country. "Complete immersion in the foreign culture is enabled through multiple technologies; from the latest digital signage (an electrical display), to streaming foreign channels, character recognition and the use of entirely foreign currency."

The centre even has "immersion rooms in which projection and audio visual equipment recreates the scenery, environments and even the smell, of a foreign culture". I must say, this does sound more fun than sitting in a classroom.

This new platform could revolutionise how we learn

DLM now wants to extend this concept of serious gaming' across a whole range of industries, while it also has high hopes for Milamber Digital. The intention here is to create an online library of digital learning content. An enormous amount of digital learning content has already been created, but this is seldom used more than once, and is not made available outside its initial audience.

Owners of this content are not making it available online, because of what DLM's new chief executive, Andy Hasoon, calls "a babel of formats, protocols and platforms that do not talk to each other, as well as the difficulties of protecting intellectual property and getting paid."

The goal of Milamber, which is backed by a consortium that includes Pearson Education, is to render digitised learning content into standard formats, so that it can be delivered to mobile and other devices. Users should be able to create their courses using blocks of content supplied by others who will thus be able to make money from these educational assets.

This sounds like a promising idea. DLM should be able to make money from devising serious games, but if it is able to control an online market place for digital learning content, then it could have something of real value.

I am not ready to jump into this one just yet. But there is the kernel of a good idea here. Still in the development stages at the moment, I will be taking a keen interest to see how it develops. I'll let you know if I see any developments.

This article is taken from Tom Bulford's free twice-weekly small-cap investment email The Penny Sleuth. Sign up to The Penny Sleuth here.

Information in Penny Sleuth is for general information only and is not intended to be relied upon by individual readers in making (or not making) specific investment decisions. Penny Sleuth is an unregulated product published by Fleet Street Publications Ltd.

Tom worked as a fund manager in the City of London and in Hong Kong for over 20 years. As a director with Schroder Investment Management International he was responsible for £2 billion of foreign clients' money, and launched what became Argentina's largest mutual fund. Now working from his home in Oxfordshire, Tom Bulford helps private investors with his premium tipping newsletter, Red Hot Biotech Alert.